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Business-to-Business marketing and online social networking don’t seem to go together. Compared to the great number opportunities social networking affords consumer product companies, many business-to-business marketers believe they have few, if any relevant social networking options.

For many business-to-business companies, it’s important to be perceived as thought leaders, deeply understanding the needs of customers and the broader marketplace in which they compete. Towards this end, they write white papers and case studies and present this content at conferences and post it to their websites. They may not even think of using online social networking or creating their own blog as a way to build their brand.

Yet, social networking offers many opportunities to build reputations and relationships. Creating a blog in which key company leaders post about issues of the day is a great way to start. If companies aren’t ready to launch their own blog, the next best thing is to identify the best-known blogs of their target audience. Thought leaders should become part of industry conversations taking place on these blogs by seeding ideas and leaving insightful comments on posts of other professionals.

For example, the company I work for provides trademark research services to attorneys. To begin connecting with attorneys, our attorney could become a known as a credible thought leader by posting on trademark law blogs (there are many of them), since we do not yet have a company blog.

LinkedIn SmurfsOnline business-networking services are now offering a parallel experience to MySpace and others in the professional world with services such as LinkedIn. Although the number of these services available to entrepreneurs and businesspeople is growing, LinkedIn strikes me as the leading network. Some business networking sites enable you to publish you own “blog,” or join specific community discussion groups.

Social networks like Twitter are great places to follow and connect with target prospects. They take blogging relationships to the next level and can offer additional opportunities for powerful connections.

Last week, DoshDosh featured an article on social networking saying the ROI of social networking is hard to measure. Yet, ROI isn’t the main reason to engage in social networking. The key benefits of social networking are increased brand awareness and improved reputation. Both are goals of companies who want to be perceived as thought leaders. There will never be a better time to start using social networking as tool to build a strong brand in the marketplace.

This is a guest post by Sandra Atlas-Gordon. She blogs at Wearable Art Blog.

Written by Sandra Atlas-Gordon